Breast Cancer - Inflammatory: Symptoms and Signs

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 01/2021

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about body changes and other things that can signal a problem that may need medical care. Use the menu to see other pages.

Symptoms of inflammatory breast cancer may appear quickly and within a short time of each other. A symptom is something that only the person experiencing it can identify and describe, such as fatigue, nausea, or pain. A sign is something that other people can identify and measure, such as a fever, rash, or an elevated pulse. Together, signs and symptoms can help describe a medical problem. Sometimes, people with inflammatory breast cancer do not have any of the signs and symptoms described below. Or, the cause of a symptom or sign may be a medical condition that is not cancer.

  • A red, swollen, or warm breast. This symptom is caused when the cancer cells block the lymph vessels in the skin of the breast. Because inflammatory breast cancer cells are located within the lymphatic system of the breast, the cells can spread to other parts of the body.

  • Skin or nipple changes, including ridges, puckering, or roughness on the skin. The pores of the skin may be more noticeable. These skin changes have been compared with the skin of an orange and may be called “peau d’orange.”

  • A lump in the breast, although often there is not a distinct lump.

  • Pain in the breast or nipple

  • Nipple discharge

If you are concerned about any changes you experience in your breast, please talk with your doctor. Your doctor will ask how long and how often you’ve been experiencing the symptom(s), in addition to other questions. This is to help figure out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis.

If cancer is diagnosed, relieving symptoms is an important part of cancer care and treatment. This may be called palliative care or supportive care. It is often started soon after diagnosis and continued throughout treatment. Be sure to talk with your health care team about the symptoms you experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

The next section in this guide is Diagnosis. It explains what tests may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.